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Prosecutor: Harris-Moore could be tried in San Juan County for crimes allegedly committed here

Serial burglary suspect Colton Harris-Moore was arrested July 11 in the Bahamas and returned to the U.S. He is expected to stand trial in San Juan County for burglaries he is suspected of committing here.  - Courtesy / The Associated Press
Serial burglary suspect Colton Harris-Moore was arrested July 11 in the Bahamas and returned to the U.S. He is expected to stand trial in San Juan County for burglaries he is suspected of committing here.
— image credit: Courtesy / The Associated Press

By COLLEEN SMITH ARMSTRONG
The Islands' Sounder

It's very likely that Colton Harris-Moore will be coming to San Juan County to face charges of burglary.

When that might be is anyone's guess.

The 19-year-old "Barefoot Bandit" has been held in a private cell in a federal detention center in SeaTac since his extradition to the U.S. from the Bahamas, where he was arrested on July 11.

San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord said once federal charges against Harris-Moore are resolved in Seattle, he will be sent to one of five counties in which he allegedly committed crimes: San Juan, Island, Skagit, Snohomish, Whatcom. Prosecutors will be meeting to determine which jurisdiction is next in line.

"It's unclear which county he will go to next," Gaylord said. "But he will be coming to San Juan County unless he agrees to resolve the cases in another forum. If he does a (consolidated) plea bargain, then he can do that in another county. But if there is going to be a trial, then he'll have to come here ... we fully expect that he will come here and answer for the charges and be accountable."

Harris-Moore is wanted on a $20,000 arrest warrant in San Juan County, on one charge of second-degree burglary involving a break-in at Island Market in September 2009. The evidence against him includes surveillance footage and a DNA match from blood found at the scene.

"Our office is reviewing about a dozen other cases which may involve Mr. Harris-Moore," Gaylord said.

He has been called the “Barefoot Bandit” or "Barefoot Burglar" because he is believed to have been shoeless during most of the alleged crimes in the San Juans. Harris-Moore is wanted in connection with a series of burglaries over the past two years on Orcas Island, as well as boat and plane thefts on Orcas Island, in Friday Harbor, and on Lopez Island. He is believed to have committed 20 to 30 burglaries in Island County.

In 2007, Harris-Moore — at the time a minor — was convicted of three counts of residential burglary and was given three years confinement. He escaped from a group home in Renton in April 2008 when he was still a juvenile.

Most recently, Harris-Moore is blamed for a string of thefts in the Bahamas, after he allegedly crash-landed there in a plane stolen from an airfield in Indiana.

Police captured Harris-Moore on Harbor Island in the Bahamas after a brief, high-speed boat chase that involved gunfire. He was carrying a handgun and several news reports state that police shot out his boat motor. On July 13, he pleaded guilty to entering the Bahamas illegally and was deported to the U.S.

Gaylord said Harris-Moore will be held in Seattle until further notice.

"The federal system works very differently from the state system," he said. "They are able to hold him for a longer period of time without being charged."

The Whidbey News Times reports that Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks wants Harris-Moore sent to his county after federal charges against him are resolved.

“He has a lot to answer for in Island County,” Banks told county officials at a recent meeting. “I think we are really next in line.”

Harris-Moore is wanted on a $500,000 arrest warrant issued in that county, on 10 charges related to Camano Island burglaries, thefts, vandalism and a car chase. Banks said other charges are pending; Harris-Moore is considered a suspect in the theft of an assault rifle from a police car parked in front of a home on Camano Island.

Gaylord said that in addition to facing jail time, Harris-Moore will be required to pay restitution to his alleged victims and possibly their insurance companies.

"We will be attempting to determine what that amount is," Gaylord said. "Because there was damage to airplanes and boats, it requires statements and invoices on what it took to repair them."

Gaylord said federal authorities are working on recovering information from a laptop and cellphone that Harris-Moore tossed into the sea at the time of his arrest. Local investigators are "examining" the possibility of accomplices in San Juan County.

Gaylord wouldn't speculate on how much time Harris-Moore could potentially serve if convicted.

"Time that people serve depends on their cooperation and criminal history," he said. "But he has such a high offender score that it could mean some very serious time."

Gaylord isn't fazed by the prospect of a media circus if Harris-Moore is tried in San Juan County.

"I think there will be less of a media interest if we're the second or third jurisdiction that handles the case," he said. "We're prepared to move forward with a trial, but we will also seek to resolve it efficiently."

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